Salvador Sobral took home the Eurovision trophy with his stunning and decisive win over top favorites Italy and Bulgaria. The contest took place in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on Saturday, May 13, 2017. Salvador sang his winning song, “Amar Pelos Dois” (“To Love for Both of Us”), completely in Portuguese and captured the heart of Europe and the world with an amazing heartfelt performance.  No one knew what the song’s lyrics meant but focused on the purity of the vocals. When he sang live in the International Exhibition Center in Kiev, you could hear a pin drop as the audience waited in anticipation of every note. “Amar Pelos Dois,” written by his sister Luísa Sobral, sounds like it’s from a bygone era– an era when life was less complicated. If you recall the spaghetti eating scene from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, you could imagine this song playing in the background as the dogs smooch.

Sobral’s backstory only enhances the song. What makes his story fascinating is that he has a life threatening heart condition and is in desperate need of a heart transplant. He wears ill-fitting clothes and keeps a generally unkempt appearance to raise awareness about heart disease. In fact, doctors only allowed him one week out of Portugal for the contest with strict rules about rehearsing. The result is a performance without fireworks or special effects, just raw emotion. Portugal has appeared 49 times at Eurovision, and its best finish to date, prior to Sobral’s Saturday night first place finish, had been sixth.

Italy, Bulgaria and Sweden Were No Match

Karma, a dancing ape, and singing in the rain are all lyrics from the song “Occidentali’s Karma.” The Italian entry, that was the odd favorite to win, finished a surprising and disappointing sixth place. Italian crooner Francesco Gabbani co-wrote the song and performed it on stage with a guy in a gorilla suit. The song (sung mainly in Italian) is a mockery of westerners who believe they can take Eastern cultures and “westernize” them.  As Gabbani explained, he was inspired by British zoologist Desmond Morris’ book “The Naked Ape.” Gabbani boils the song’s meaning down to “when all is said and done, we are all naked apes.” The song has already become a hit in Europe, and the video has reached 112 million views on Youtube in just 2 and a half months. The song could be on its way to be the next “Gangnam Style.”

The other standout performance of the night was from Bulgarian singer Kristian Kostov, who finished in second place. Building on the momentum of Bulgaria’s fourth place finish in 2016 with Poli Genova’s “If Love was a Crime,” Bulgaria seems to be finding its groove. Seventeen-year-old Kostov, a protege of the Bulgarian Voice and X Factor, is the first person born in the 21st century to perform at Eurovision. Clearly, his time on X-Factor allowed him to fearlessly ‘go for it’ on the main stage with his ballad “Beautiful Mess.” Imagine Nick Jonas 10 years ago, and you will have an idea of Kostov’s style. He had been an early favorite to win but just could not overcome the power of the Portuguese entry.

Robin Bengtsson continued Sweden’s solid performance finishes at Eurovision. Since 2011, Sweden has won the contest twice and finished in the Top 5 three times. Bengtsson finished fifth with his entry “I Can’t Go On.” One thing is certain, Sweden knows pop music and how to produce refined, polished singles. Although the song is not vocally challenging, it’s the hook and mid-tempo funk that Europeans loved. Vocally Bengtsson is a mix of Adam Levine and the slickness of Justin Timberlake. The song, accompanied by cool treadmill choreography similar to OK GO’s ”Here It Goes Again,” was nearly a perfect combination. Maybe too perfect as many felt the song lacked depth and was a bit too cold. Bengtsson along with four back-up dancers strutted on the treadmills confidently like they were pounding the fashion runways of Milan. It would not be surprising if the highly charismatic singer scores a single in the US at some point.

And The Bizarre Acts

Eurovision would not be Eurovision without the unusual and the downright bizarre performances.  Romania has managed to qualify for the Eurovision final 13 out 13 times. Continuing its amazing streak with a seventh place finish, Romania is known for its avant-garde approach to its entries and this year was no exception. “Yodel It” performed by Ilinca feat. Alex Florea‎ was a cross between rap, rock and yodeling. Yes, you read it correctly– yodeling. The song is outrageously kooky but begs a listen because, in a bizarre way, it works. European audiences clearly were in awe of Ilinca’s yodeling talent while the dark and brooding Florea laid down an exceptional rap.

But, hands down, the award for most bizarre performance of the evening went to the thirteenth place finish for Croatia’s Jacques Houdek, who sang “My Friend.” Houdek is one of the biggest singers in Croatia and a mentor/coach on their version of the Voice. So this song is a bit bipolar from the standpoint that it sounds like two completely different people are singing two different songs in two different languages as a duet. But in reality, Houdek sings both parts. In one verse, he sings in a Pavoratti-style operatic voice. Then seamlessly, he switches into a high pitch “boy-band” voice. And for his performance on stage, he actually wore a costume that was half black tuxedo and the other half sequined biker outfit and turned every time he switched voices. There is no denying that the 35-year-old has talent, it’s just a shame they wasted it on a mediocre, schizophrenic, sappy song. But acts like Houdek are the reason the world tunes in to Eurovision every May.

Eurovision 2017 Gallery